SFF review: On Body and Soul

An intriguing if a little too obvious romantic dramedy with heart and soul. Beautifully shot.

“Every night I hope and pray, a dream lover will come my way,” once crooned Bobby Darin and that’s more or less the set up to Hungarian writer/director ldikó Enyedildikó Enyedi’s determinedly quirky dramatic comedy On Body and Soul (A Teströl És Lélekröl)

A friendly if fairly solitary soul, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the financial director of an abattoir located on a fairly desolate train stop on the edges of Budapest where life plods along at predictable pace until the confluence of two seemingly unrelated events conspire to transform a life lived resigned to being alone.

The most important is the arrival of a new quality control inspector, the beautiful if extremely remote Mária (Alexandra Borbély) who flinches at the merest thought of physical contact, obsesses on her work while ignoring all around her and has to plan out possible conversations with the salt and pepper shaker each night, alone in her spartan apartment.

The second event is something of a convenient MacGuffin, when “mating powder” intended to keep the cows of the slaughterhouse procreating (is this really a thing?) is stolen, sparking a police investigation and fingers pointed at a sexist new recruit Sandor (Ervin Nagy). This brings in Réka Tenki’s psychologist to profile the factory workers, revealing the uncanny connection at this sweet film’s centre: Endre and Mária, mutually attracted though unable to confide in each other, each dream of a doe and deer every eve.

Majestic in their quiet exploration of a snowbound forest punctuated by a babbling stream and glacial ponds, it soon becomes clear that these dewy dream forms represent the tentative ambition of the unlikely lovers in much the same way as the ill-fated cows sent to slaughter represent the fragility of love.

Securing the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlinale, there’s a lot to like about Enyedi’s delicately drawn and impeccably shot film, with cinematographer Máté Herbai bringing as much beauty to the austere apartments and industrial death factories as the glistening dreamscape wilderness.

One Body and Soul could stand to tighten an overly meandering middle, play less literally and more experimentally with its intriguing concept and rein in a much too exaggerated performance from Borbély, the weakest link here.

Playing her character’s autism spectrum to the point of farce, it doesn’t quite sit right with the more intimate tone of this thoughtful meditation on loneliness and difference. Morcsányi, by contrast, judges his role impeccably and Enyedi’s handling of his physical disability, a lame arm, commendably avoids patronising, leading to a sublime moment in the film’s at times brutal finale as these dream lovers struggle to find a moment’s calm with one another.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords